Vernon Township High School students showed off their cooking skills to their classmates and mentors in the Culinary Throwdown on Tuesday, Jan. 17.
The annual event, which began in 2012, was not held the past two years because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Each of four teams prepared a three-course meal for the judges, who evaluated their work based on organization, sanitation, cooking and several other categories.
The teams - Aquapods, Bubble Guppies, Red Riders and Big Deal Chefs - had three or four students and a mentor chef to help guide them through the competition.
These young Chef Ramsay’s had to be productive in the kitchen as they had 15 minutes to come up with their meal and one hour to finish it.
Each team worked quickly and efficiently preparing their meals, showing that communication is a key piece in a successful kitchen.
Students who exhibit a willingness to learn and take direction were nominated by their culinary teachers to compete.
Some of them go a step further and participate in SkillsUSA club, which allows students to cook during lunch once or twice a week.
The panel of judges included school board president Kelly Mitchell, board member Jennifer Pellet, the board’s student representative Colin Geisen and retired science teacher Marge Cobley.
“We support all CTE (Career Technical Education) programs and so many of them are run well,” Mitchell said. “It is nice to see the students grow and the food looks so good.”
Pellet added, “It’s nice to experience the kids cooking and see what they can do in school.”
After the meals were prepared, one thing was certain: the students have talent and made some beautiful dishes.
After the judges tallied their scores, the Red Riders were declared the winner. That team included Elizabeth, Ariana, Adrian, Viktoria and Chef Bob.
All participants were handed certificates, and the winners received a travel cup with their names engraved into it.
The high school partnered with Sodexo, its food-service provider, on the event.
Maureen Remner, the company’s general manager, and Jennifer Szalabofka, its director of cient partnerships, attended the competition.
“The competition was made to showcase the students and inspire them,” Szalabofka said. “The goal is to enhance and elevate students. This competition helps recognize the students’ talents.”
Similar competitions are held in other high schools and Sodexo holds a future chefs contest at middle schools.
Culinary courses at Vernon have developed during the past seven years because of a shift in the CTE culinary program.
Jennifer Ryder, a culinary teacher there, is CTE-certified and has helped push the program along by teaching students how to cook in more advanced ways.
The school offers four levels of culinary courses.
Ryder discussed a project she created two years ago in which students create mini-food trucks out of cardboard. Each has a theme and a menu, and students have a chance to make the food they included on the menus.
The food trucks were displayed during the Culinary Throwdown and spectators could vote for their three favorites. The top three win a free lunch that the culinary teachers cook.
Last year, students made 30 food trucks; this year, there were 50.